Blazing Their Own Trails

Training and development programs are now more flexible than ever, which makes employees happy and keeps costs in check.

Indeed, companies “are looking for concrete results,” says Elaine Eisenman, dean of Babson Executive Education, which has seen a similar trend. “The era of education for education’s sake has ended; now companies are saying, ‘We want to educate people, but we also want to see a significant ROI.’”

Such customized programs tend to be used only by the largest companies, even though a recent analysis by corporate-learning research firm Bersin & Associates suggests they can be more cost-effective than open-enrollment programs when as few as 10 executives from the same company attend.

Not surprisingly, the format of these programs is changing. “Not only because of the financial crisis, but also due to time and travel constraints, organizations are asking us to do more blended solutions,” that combine a limited amount of time in the classroom with online and Webcast-style modules, says Beth Stoops, senior vice president of corporate learning at Thunderbird School of Global Management. “The face-to-face programs are not enough anymore.”

The schools may have more to learn in this regard, though. A recent Bersin survey found that 83% of companies rated “partnering to understand business needs” as “very important,” yet only 27% rated business schools as being “very effective” at it, and blended learning solutions were particularly low-rated. — Leah Tedesco

Five Ways to Enhance Learning

New research from Bersin & Associates correlates 40 organizational learning practices with 10 business outcomes (such as employee productivity, time-to-market, customer satisfaction, and others).

In studying more than 400 companies, Bersin found that these five practices have the biggest impact:

• Leaders are willing to hear the truth, including bad news.

• Employees at all levels of the company are encouraged to ask questions.

• Decision-making processes are spelled out clearly across the company.

• Employees are encouraged to stretch by being given tasks beyond their current skill levels or responsibilities.

• Employees have some input regarding which job tasks they are assigned.

The good news is that these keys to creating a more effective “learning culture” have little to do with how much money companies spend on training and development. The rub, however, is that these practices extend well outside human-resources and training departments and require the commitment of leaders and managers; they also require companies to frame “learning” as something that goes far beyond “training.” — Scott Leibs

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